Are You Not Entertained?

Maximus had just laid waste to his foes in the gladiator arena. He raises his arms and yells to the crowd “are you not entertained?!” It’s an iconic moment from an iconic movie. It’s a line I quote quite often as a matter of fact (although more so in my college days).

Here is a man who is on display before the crowds, and they seem disappointed in his performance, underwhelmed when they were expecting a show that would keep them on the edge of their seats. Here is a man at war personally while the crowds stand outside the field of battle, cheering or heckling, complaining or affirming.

I’ve been a pastor now for five years, and I can relate to that scene more and more.

I’ve been hesitant to even say that because I genuinely don’t seek a “woe is me” line of thinking or a “poor guy” response.

But I feel it.

And I share that feeling to advocate for those in my life who have been brutalized in the arena of ministry, all while they receive the thumbs down of those seeking to be entertained by the public figure that is the pastor. I share that feeling because men in ministry have been so hurt by the war that they face depression, discouragement, and even suicidal thoughts.

I know a man who has been faithful for decades and yet has people grumbling against him because his personality is not to their liking or some other minutia.

I know a man who was falsely accused (and proven so) of all sorts of moral failures by a group of people in the church who didn’t like him.

I know a man who was critiqued widely and regularly for his style of preaching.

I know a man who is exhausted and he’s only been in ministry a few years.

I know a dozen youth pastors who have faced to differing degrees the perception that they aren’t in the big leagues, they’re not adults, they’re not actually doing anything hard, they’re not real pastors yet, etc., despite being ordained ministers of the gospel. And to that I say, there is no greater mission field in the world than the ages of 15-30.

I know a man who regularly has to quote Colossians 1 and the importance of being continuously strengthened by the power of Christ, in order to continue manning up and seeking to live out his calling (that man is me).

Pastoral ministry is war.

It’s emotionally, physically, relationally, mentally, and spiritually draining.

It is painful.

It is hard.

Now, again, hear me say as clear as day: it’s worth it. The moments when I see young men and women catch the fire of discipleship, when I see students take ownership of their own faith, when I see older believers not get out of the game but continue advocating for the Kingdom to come, I am overwhelmed with joy. The pain and difficulty of ministry fades to the background as the joy of fruitfulness comes to the forefront.

So, yes it’s worth it.

But sometimes, oftentimes, that doesn’t lighten the load.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. – 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

When I was young, when God first called me into ministry (at the age of 7) and then later affirmed that call (at the age of 17), I thought pastoral ministry was easy and fun. I mean, I love to talk. I especially love to talk about Jesus. I thought people would love to hear me talk about Jesus. That’s all there was to it.

Then I actually got into ministry. Woah it ain’t that. Paul is challenging here. I think every man seeking to go into ministry should read this passage again and again. What does ministry sometimes look like?

Giving up one’s life for the church.

Sorrowful.

Yet always rejoicing.

Poor.

Yet making many (others) rich.

Having nothing.

But possessing everything (in Christ).

War.

For the Kingdom.

Here’s the beauty. Paul and his fellow ministers didn’t do anything that Christ didn’t do better. And so Christ doesn’t call the modern pastor to do anything that He didn’t do perfectly. Christ was homeless, lonely, poor. He continuously gave up His life for the people around Him and then He did it finally and firmly via the cross.

So, pastor, take heart.

Your affirmation comes not from the raucous crowd watching your public ministry.

Your affirmation comes from Christ who gives you strength.

Pastor, take heart.

Your faithfulness has been given a gigantic thumbs up from the only Emperor that matters, King Jesus.

Pastor, take heart.

He knows. He sees. He cares. He loves. He provides strength.

Church, pray for your pastors. They are imperfect men, broken men, men in need of great grace.

Church, support your pastors. In every decision they make, they are weighing many different opinions and perspectives.

Church, love your pastors.

Church, fight alongside your pastors. Get in the arena with them. Do ministry alongside them.

Church, don’t lose your pastor. Don’t be the reason they step away from ministry.

I long for the day that I don’t hear of pastors taking their own lives. I long for the day when pastors don’t need counseling, don’t get burnt out, don’t battle depression on the regular.

I long for the day when the question isn’t “are you not entertained” but rather “are you with me”?

Let us strive for that day here on earth.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Go Down The Street

I live in a city full of people in need.

You do too.

I live in a city where houses are crumbling, students go to school hungry, violence persists, hundreds of kids need mentorship, and kids walk to and from school and down our streets in the middle of the night.

You do too.

These issues are nuanced and specific to certain contexts and communities. But there are needs that need to be met by God’s people in every single place where people reside.

Here’s the heartbreaking issue.

We too often forsake the local needs of our community for the national or international needs we come across.

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? – James 2:15-16

That one puts some tears in my eyes. How often is that me? How often do I proclaim the good news of the gospel but don’t care enough to meet physical needs as well?

Well, I guess I have met some needs.

They’ve just been overseas or across the country.

Surely that counts right?

That’s a pretty good combination at least.

Preaching the gospel locally and meeting the needs of people internationally.

My brothers and sisters, I don’t believe this is how the church is supposed to be.

My brothers and sisters, I don’t believe this is how my life is supposed to be.

To use the context of the verse, you could say:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed. I would help you, but I’ve expended all my energies and resources on overseas missions,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? – Nathan’s Opinions 2:15-16

What I do nationally or internationally should be out of the overflow of what I do locally. This is what I imperfectly practice and strive to be about. For me and my wife, we choose to focus on local missions first, and then if there is anything left over, we extend out from there.

Think of it as circles that are expanding.

Local, regional, national, and international.

My desire and prayer is that I will focus on doing things in my local circle, but our churches have become places at times where we focus on national or international and forsake the local. We go on short-term mission trips, but fail to evangelize our neighborhoods. We collect goods to send overseas, but we ignore the kids walking to school hungry in our own community. My heart breaks at this.

International Efforts Are Great, Local Efforts Are Too 

I want to start by making this abundantly clear: Gospel-centered, Jesus-proclaiming international efforts of sharing Jesus and meeting needs are great things. Let us pray and support them financially. I have nothing against them. That being said, I want to lovingly push back and remind us that local efforts are great too.

International Efforts Are Easy, Local Efforts Are Hard

Please hear my heart again. My sister is literally a missionary overseas sharing the gospel right now, and nothing about her situation is easy.

But, for me in North Texas, to get involved in international efforts is easy.

It’s easier for me to send money per month to help some child overseas whose picture is on my refrigerator, then it is for me to open up my home to a child here who is in need. Why? Because it’s hard.

It’s easier to go take part in a VBS on a short term mission trip than it is to build relationships with students in town all year long. Tonight my wife and I are having a couple students over, whom we love. But opening up our home to a couple Junior High boys takes some effort.

It’s easier for me to send a gospel tract to a missionary overseas than it is for me to meet weekly with young men in our community and guide them closer to Jesus.

It’s easier for me to take a trip to Washington D.C. for a focused week of service, than it is for me to volunteer at the local food bank or local Boys and Girls Club.

International Efforts Make Discipleship Uncertain, Local Efforts Put Discipleship On Us 

If you’ve been on a national or international mission trip, the discipleship, the follow-up, is often uncertain. I served on teams three consecutive summers with the North American Mission Board, and each year when we left we were unsure if those we had conversations about the gospel with were being discipled or followed up with. We had faith churches we partnered with would do so, but we just didn’t really know for sure.

But sharing the gospel in a local capacity puts the discipleship on us. That’s hard. That’s messy. That’s difficult. That’s time-consuming. This is how it should be.

I recently was part of a regional youth weekend at a camp near where I live and work. I taught a breakout session on Discipleship. I asked the room of students who had ever been discipled, led in their faith, by an older follower of Jesus. 5% of the students raised their hands.

Wow, how that rips me up inside.

That’s the purpose of the church.

It is not a matter of time, but of priority.

If we are not actively discipling those younger than us in the faith, our priorities are way out of whack.

International Efforts Should Be The Overflow Of Our Local Efforts 

Here’s what all this boils down to for me. International efforts should be the overflow of our local efforts. I’m all for raising money and goods for kids overseas, but only if we are matching that in our local community. I personally don’t feel at peace about kids walking to school hungry in my community while we send all we have to other countries. I’m all for short-term mission trips, but only if we are evangelizing and discipling our own community as well, opening up our homes to any and all.

The community of faith is to be one that is irresistible, one that draws people in. One reason I think that our churches are fighting to even stay afloat is because those who don’t claim Christ see communities full of need filled with churches doing nothing.

Let me say that again.

One reason our churches aren’t drawing people in is because we preach the good news of Jesus to communities full of needs while often doing nothing to meet those needs.

Let me be clear. I’m imperfect. While my wife and I strive to focus locally, we fall short. I’ve missed the last two weeks of meeting with a couple High School boys I’m mentoring. We are opening up our home for just the first time in 2019 tonight. But we’re striving to meet the needs of Vernon, TX first and foremost.

Pray for international missionaries like my sister. Give to international organizations doing great work. Go on short term trips throughout the nation, partnering with churches.

But do this out of the overflow of what you are doing locally.

Before you get on a plane or write a check,

Go down the street.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach